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[AUGUST 2019.]

R.H. Blyth is making fun of me, but a dart so specifically honed must have been also turned back on himself.

Is the world bad, or Bad? Thomas Hardy thought it was Bad, and that for this very reason it gives us an opportunity for tragic integrity. If the world is Bad, let each man do zazen and get his satori, play and listen to the Forty-eight Preludes and Fugues; paint pictures and look at the best of others daily; learn the most distant foreign language, and read its poetry in the original; build his own house, or at least a dog-kennel; climb hills or high trees, or join the fire-brigade; be a vegetarian and an out-and-out (impossible) pacifist. If a man cannot do these things, he may creep in a petty pace to death, or jump out of the window. A spiritually dead or unborn man makes the greatest art and religion look what it is anyhow, foolish.

The whole spine of Japan really was covered in cherry blossoms, in fifteen million shades between magenta and white. I feel so much more lenient toward all those mannered-seeming poets who swore they couldn’t tell if they were looking at blossoms or snow, after spending fifteen minutes myself staring at what looked like snow on the Eiheiji roof tiles (because Lord, was it a cold morning), pacing back and forth to see if the color shifted and finally realizing it was the reflection of the sky.

Mist around the moon, in those poems, is a sign of spring on the way. Winter is clearer.

The gong rings. Bow to Dōgen’s ashes. Cross the moss bridge and go downhill into town for a hot can of vending machine coffee, hot soba at the souvenir shop.

Quadrature

From the new house to the office it’s 8.4 miles by bike and 8.4 miles back again. I can shorten the trip with trains if necessary, but I do feel better on those days that I ride the whole way, less because of “exercise” than from having successfully gone over the land. I used to walk everywhere, when Berkeley was cheaper and grimier and we could live there… now, lying in bed, I look out the window into the bend of the ravine in which the new house is placed, and think okay, this slope here, that stand of trees. The moon crosses the power lines from left to right. The water flows the same way.

At the start of the month I drove with R. to Reno, and even doing idiotic battle with traffic I felt the old wideness of western highways, always an easier place to think. The sky as a giant’s brainpan: Ymir, I think, with cerebral floss of clouds in the cold upper air.

The perpendicular to that would be the woods of Eiheiji, where I spent the night in March. Vertical trees tucked under a vertical mountain, and the temple an extremely placed place between stream and slope, unshakeable even if the individual buildings had burned down and been remade a few times. They got us up before dawn to climb to the dharma hall. I made the mistake of putting on too-small temple slippers and had an awkward time on the stairs. The hall enormous, black with assemblages of hanging gold, chanting and incense. Suppose that necessity and freedom have an infinite solution set, but the monastic model is easiest to express because all the other solutions are series expansions where you just have to keep writing out terms.

I’ve been crashing on the couch around 9:30 and not coming back to life until next morning. J. says it’s the bike ride, and she’s probably right. But the bike, too, seems to be one of the only places where I can think.

The other night I came across a quote from Sartre of all people:

L’Américain, avant de faire des livres, a souvent exercé des métiers manuels, il y revient entre deux romans, sa vocation lui apparaît au ranch, à l’atelier, dans les rues de la ville, il ne voit pas dans la littérature un moyen de proclamer sa solitude, mais une occasion d’y échapper… il songe moins à la gloire qu’il ne rêve de fraternité.

The American writer has often practiced manual occupations before writing his books; he goes back to them. Between two novels, his vocation seems to be on the ranch, in the shop, in the city streets; he does not see in literature a means of proclaiming his solitude, but an opportunity of escaping it… He muses less about glory than he dreams of fraternity.

I don’t think Jean-Paul knew much about American culture, and the economic order he thought he was describing is certainly long gone. (Je doute s’il existe une bourgeoisie aux États-Unis.) So imagine me all the more annoyed to see there (substituting the ranch with the data center, and correcting the last sentence to allow for the possibility of sorority) something I still recognized.

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